|Stylistic origins Folk
|Cultural origins Early to mid-1960s, United Kingdom and United States|
Derivative forms Acid rock neofolk sunshine pop post-progressive
Folk rock is a musical genre combining elements of folk music and rock music. In its earliest and narrowest sense, the term referred to a genre that arose in the United States and the United Kingdom around the mid-1960s. The genre was pioneered by the Los Angeles band the Byrds, who began playing traditional folk music and songs by Bob Dylan with rock instrumentation. The term "folk rock" was coined by the U.S. music press to describe the Byrds' music in June 1965, the month in which the band's debut album was issued.
- Definition and etymology
- Folk revival
- The Beatles and the British Invasion
- Other precursors
- The Byrds
- Bob Dylan
- Other musicians
- Country folk
- Electric folk
- Celtic rock
- Medieval folk rock
- British progressive folk rock
- Folk metal
- Yugoslavia and its successor states
- The Soviet Union and its successor states
- East Asia
- South Africa
The release of the Byrds' 1965 cover version of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and its subsequent commercial success, along with Dylan's own recordings with rock instrumentation—on the albums Bringing It All Back Home (1965), Highway 61 Revisited (1965), and Blonde on Blonde (1966)—initiated an explosion of folk rock groups the mid-1960s. Dylan's appearance at the Newport Folk Festival on 25 July 1965, with an electric band backing him, was also a pivotal moment in the development of the genre.
A distinct, eclectic style of electric folk was created in Britain and Europe in the late 1960s by Pentangle, Fairport Convention and Alan Stivell. Inspired by British psychedelic folk and the North American style of folk rock, Pentangle, Fairport, and other related bands began to incorporate elements of traditional British folk music into their repertoire. Fairport bassist Ashley Hutchings formed Steeleye Span with traditionalist folk musicians who wished to incorporate overt rock elements into their music, and this led to other variants, including the overtly English folk rock of the Albion Band (also featuring Hutchings) and the more prolific current of Celtic rock.
In a broader sense, folk rock includes later similarly inspired musical genres and movements in the English-speaking world.
Definition and etymology
Folk rock is a musical genre combining elements of folk music and rock music. In its earliest and narrowest sense, the term referred to a genre that arose in the United States and the United Kingdom around the mid-1960s. The style was heavily influenced by the Beatles and other British bands. The term "folk rock" was coined by the U.S. music press to describe the Byrds' music in June 1965, the month in which the band's debut album was issued.
Music critic Richie Unterberger has noted that the commercial success of the Byrds' cover version of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man", along with Dylan's own contributions to the genre on the albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde, initiated an explosion of emulators and imitators. Unterberger has also noted that Dylan's appearance at the Newport Folk Festival on 25 July 1965, with an electric band backing him, was a pivotal moment in the development of folk rock.
In a broader sense, folk rock includes later similarly inspired musical genres and movements in the English-speaking world (and its Celtic and Filipino fringes) and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere in Europe. As with any genre, the borders are difficult to define. Folk rock may lean more toward folk or more toward rock in instrumentation, playing and vocal style, and choice of material; while the original genre draws on music of Europe and North America, there is no clear delineation of which folk cultures music might be included as influences. Still, the term is not usually applied to rock music rooted in the blues-based or other African American music (except as mediated through folk revivalists), nor to rock music with Cajun roots, nor to music (especially after about 1980) with non-European folk roots, which is more typically classified as world music.
In the United States, folk rock arose mainly from the confluence of three elements: the urban vocal groups of the folk revival; folk-protest singer-songwriters; and the revival of North American rock and roll after the British Invasion. Of these, the first two owed direct debts to protest folk singers such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, along with the leftist Popular Front culture of the 1930s. Among the earliest of the urban folk vocal groups was the Almanac Singers, who were formed for the purpose of popularizing protest music for political ends and whose shifting membership during the early 1940s included Guthrie, Seeger and Lee Hays. In 1948 Seeger and Hays joined Ronnie Gilbert and Fred Hellerman to form the Weavers, who had a number of hits, including "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine", "Wimoweh", "The Wreck of the John B", and a cover of Lead Belly's "Goodnight, Irene". The Weavers' mainstream popularity set the stage for the folk revival of the 1950s and early 1960s and also served to bridge the gap between folk, popular music, and topical song. By 1951, however, the group had fallen afoul of the U.S. Red Scare of the McCarthy era, and as a result they disbanded in 1952. The group reformed in 1955, releasing the influential album The Weavers at Carnegie Hall in 1957, before disbanding for a second time in 1964, although Seeger had left the group in 1958.
The Weavers' sound and repertoire of traditional folk material and topical songs directly inspired the Kingston Trio, a three-piece folk group who came to prominence in 1958 with their hit recording of "Tom Dooley", which peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The Kingston Trio provided the template for a flood of "collegiate folk" groups between 1958 and 1962, including the Brothers Four, the Limeliters, the Chad Mitchell Trio, the New Christy Minstrels, and the Highwaymen. Like the Kingston Trio, these groups all featured tight vocal harmonies, mildly comedic stage routines, and a repertoire of professionally arranged folk music and topical song, aimed at a mainstream audience. The crystal-clear harmony singing and liberal outlook that characterized American folk rock during the mid-1960s sprang directly from the music and philosophies of the "collegiate folk" movement. In addition, the presence of traditional folk songs in the repertoires of a number of folk rock acts can be attributed to the heightened level of exposure that the folk revival afforded such material. Many future folk rock artists, including members of the Byrds, the Mamas & the Papas, and Buffalo Springfield, along with solo singers like Barry McGuire and Scott McKenzie, began their professional music careers in folk revival groups.
At roughly the same time as these "collegiate folk" vocal groups came to national prominence, a second group of urban folk revivalists, influenced by the music and guitar picking styles of folk and blues artist like Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Brownie McGhee, and Josh White, also came to the fore. Many of these urban revivalists were influenced by recordings of traditional American music from the 1920s and 1930s, which had been reissued by Folkways Records; Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music was particularly influential. While this urban folk revival flourished in many cities across the U.S.—particularly Chicago, Los Angeles, and Denver—New York City, with its burgeoning Greenwich Village coffeehouse scene and population of topical folk singers, was widely regarded as the centre of the movement. Out of this fertile environment came such folk-protest luminaries as Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, and Peter, Paul and Mary, many of whom would transition into folk rock performers as the 1960s progressed.
Like the 1950s Beat Generation before them, the vast majority of the urban folk revivalists shared a disdain for the values of mainstream American mass culture. This rejection of traditional values and the attendant politicization it often bred, along with fervent support for the civil rights movement, led many folk singers to begin composing their own "protest" material. The most important and influential of this new wave of folk-protest songwriters was Bob Dylan, whose complex lyrics provided a commentary on contemporary social issues and his own life experiences, and thus paralleled the work of Beat Generation writers like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.
After the term "singer-songwriter" was coined in 1965, it was applied retroactively during the late 1960s to the likes of Dylan, Paxton, and other folk-rooted artists, whose repertoires had transitioned from traditional to self-penned material during the early 1960s. The influence of this folk-protest movement would later manifest itself in the sociopolitical lyrics and mildly anti-establishment sentiments of many folk rock songs, including hit singles such as "Eve of Destruction", "Like a Rolling Stone", "For What It's Worth", and "Let's Live for Today".
Across the Atlantic, a parallel folk revival was occurring in the UK during the 1950s and early 1960s. The leading protagonists of this revival, often referred to as the second British folk revival, were folk singers Ewan MacColl and Bert Lloyd, both of whom saw British folk music as a vehicle for leftist political concepts and an antidote to the American-dominated popular music of the time. However, it wasn't until 1956 and the advent of the skiffle craze that the British folk revival crossed over into the mainstream and connected with British youth culture.
Skiffle was a blend of jazz, folk, and country blues, with roots in African-American folk music and the post-war British jazz scene. During the late 1950s, thousands of teenage skiffle groups sprang up in the UK, each performing traditional material on inexpensive or makeshift instruments, such as acoustic guitar, banjo, harmonica, tea-chest bass, and washboard. Many British beat, folk, and rock musicians who came to prominence in the 1960s first picked up a musical instrument in order to play skiffle and the folk influences inherent in the genre introduced a new generation of young musicians to traditional music. This renewed popularity of folk music forms in Britain led directly to the progressive folk movement and the attendant British folk club scene. Among the leading lights of the progressive folk movement were Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, who would later form the folk rock band Pentangle in the late 1960s. Many other notable folk rock artists such as Donovan, Al Stewart, and John Martyn also had roots in the progressive folk scene, as did American singer-songwriter Paul Simon.
The Beatles and the British Invasion
Beginning in 1964 and lasting until roughly 1966, a wave of British beat groups, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Kinks, and Herman's Hermits amongst others, dominated the U.S. music charts. These groups were all heavily influenced by American rock 'n' roll, blues, and R&B—musical genres they had been introduced to via homegrown British rock 'n' roll singers, imported American records, and the music of the skiffle craze. While rock 'n' roll and, to a lesser extent, blues were still popular in the UK, for many young Americans these genres had either become somewhat démodé, as was the case with rock 'n' roll, or were largely unknown to white audiences, as was the case with the blues. These UK groups, known collectively as the British Invasion, reintroduced American youth culture to the broad potential of rock and pop music as a creative medium and to the wealth of musical culture to be found within the United States. In addition, a number of the British Invasion bands also wrote their own pop- and R&B-flavored material, something that was rarely done at the time and something that would prove to be influential on many U.S. bands as the 1960s progressed.
Although there had been a few sporadic British successes in the U.S. charts prior to 1964, notably the Tornados' hit instrumental "Telstar", the British Invasion began in earnest in January 1964 when the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" single reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. This was followed by the American release of Meet the Beatles!, an LP that topped the Billboard album chart in February 1964 and went on to influence many forms of American popular music during the 1960s. In February 1964 the Beatles embarked on their first North American tour, during which they made three television appearances on the popular Ed Sullivan Show; their first appearance drew an estimated viewing audience of 73 million. By 4 April 1964, the Beatles held the top five positions on the Billboard singles chart, the only time to date that any act has accomplished such a feat.
The Beatles' impact on America went far beyond commercial success, however, with the fact that the band wrote much of their own material being particularly influential on aspiring U.S. musicians. In addition, the youthful exuberance of the band's music, the inventive melodies and harmonies that they utilized, and their image as four equal personalities—rather than the more usual star being backed by a group of anonymous musicians—were all revolutionary in terms of creating a new standard for musical groups. Of particular importance to the development of folk rock were the subtle folk influences evident in such Beatles' compositions as "I'll Be Back", "Things We Said Today", and "I'm a Loser", with the latter song being directly inspired by folk singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. These songs were all influential in providing a template for successfully assimilating folk-based chord progressions and melodies into pop music. This melding of folk and rock 'n' roll in the Beatles' music became even more explicit during 1965, with the release of "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away", a folk-derived song with introspective lyrics, again influenced by Dylan. Although the Beatles themselves utilized folk as just one of many styles evident in their music, the underlying folk influences in a number of their songs would prove to be important to folk rock musicians attempting to blend their own folk influences with beat music.
In the wake of the Beatles' first visit to America, numerous other British beat groups followed, capitalizing on the prevailing American fascination for all things British and monopolizing the U.S. charts for the next two years. The effect that the music of these British bands, and the Beatles in particular, had on young Americans was immediate; almost overnight, folk—along with many other forms of homegrown music—became passé for a large proportion of America's youth, who instead turned their attention to the influx of British acts. The influence of these acts also impacted on the collegiate folk and urban folk communities, with many young musicians quickly losing interest in folk music and instead embracing the rock 'n' roll derived repertoire of the British Invasion. Future members of many folk rock acts, including the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Mamas & the Papas, and Buffalo Springfield, all turned their backs on traditional folk music during 1964 and 1965 as a direct result of the influence of the Beatles and the other British Invasion bands. Author and music historian Richie Unterberger has noted that the Beatles' impact on American popular culture effectively sounded the death knell for the American folk music revival.
In addition to The Beatles, the two British groups that were arguably the most influential on the development of folk rock were the Animals and the Searchers. The former released a rock interpretation of the traditional folk song "The House of the Rising Sun" in the U.S. in August 1964. The song reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and stayed there for three weeks, selling over a million copies in just five weeks in the U.S. This sorrowful tale of a whorehouse in New Orleans had previously been recorded by a number of folk and blues performers, including Bob Dylan, whose adaptation was likely responsible for first introducing the song to the Animals. The band's arrangement of "The House of the Rising Sun", which transmuted the song from an acoustic folk lament to a full-bore electric rock song, would go on to influence many folk rock acts but none more so than Dylan himself, who cited it as a key factor in his decision to record and perform with an electric rock band in 1965.
The Searchers, on the other hand, were influential in popularizing the jangly sound of the electric twelve-string guitar. Many musicians in the collegiate and urban folk movements were already familiar with acoustic twelve-string guitars via the music of folk and blues singer Lead Belly. However, the Searchers' use of amplified twelve-strings provided another example of how conventional folk elements could be incorporated into rock music to produce new and exciting sounds. The Beatles' lead guitarist, George Harrison, also influenced this trend towards jangly guitars in folk rock with his use of a Rickenbacker twelve-string guitar on the Beatles' mid-1960s recordings. This relatively clean, jangly sound—without distortion or other guitar effects—became a cornerstone of folk rock instrumentation and was used in many American folk rock records made during 1965 and 1966.
Although folk rock mainly grew out of a mix of American folk revival and British Invasion influences, there were also a few examples of proto-folk rock that were important in the development of the genre. Of these secondary influences, Unterberger has cited the self-penned, folk-influenced material of San Francisco's the Beau Brummels as arguably the most important. Despite their Beatlesque image, the band's use of minor chords, haunting harmonies, and folky acoustic guitar playing—as heard on their debut single "Laugh, Laugh"—was stylistically very similar to the later folk rock of the Byrds. Released in December 1964, "Laugh, Laugh" peaked at number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1965, while its similarly folk-flavored follow-up, "Just a Little", did even better, reaching number 8 on the U.S. singles chart. The high-profile success of the Beau Brummels' music was important in demonstrating that a hybrid of folk and rock could potentially be translated into mainstream commercial success.
Pre-dating the Beau Brummels' commercial breakthrough by almost two years, singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon's April 1963 single "Needles and Pins" marked, according to Unterberger, the earliest appearance of the ringing guitar sound that would become a mainstay of early folk rock. This use of cyclical, chiming guitar riffs was repeated on DeShannon's late 1963 recording of her own composition "When You Walk in the Room". The following year, both songs would become hits for the Liverpudlian band the Searchers, who chose to place even greater emphasis on the jangly guitar playing in the songs. In addition, a number of DeShannon's songs from the period, including "When You Walk in the Room", displayed a greater degree of lyrical maturity and sensuality than was usual for pop songs of the time. This heightened degree of emotional introspection was inspired by her love of Bob Dylan's folk songwriting and represents one of the first attempts by an American artist to absorb folk sensibilities into rock music.
In the UK, the folk group the Springfields (featuring Dusty Springfield) had been releasing folk-oriented material featuring full band arrangements since the early 1960s, including renditions of "Lonesome Traveler", "Allentown Jail", and "Silver Threads and Golden Needles". Although these records owed more to orchestral pop than rock, they were nonetheless influential on up-and-coming folk rock musicians on both sides of the Atlantic. In mid-1965, folk singer-songwriter Donovan was also experimenting with adding electrified instrumentation to some of his folk and blues-styled material, as evidenced by songs such as "You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond" and "Sunny Goodge Street". In spite of his folky persona and repertoire, Donovan himself had always considered himself a pop star, rather than a folk singer. As a result, he had been thinking of a way in which to introduce folk styled acoustic guitars and socially conscious lyrics into pop music for several years prior to his 1965 breakthrough as a recording artist. By January 1966, he had recorded the self-penned hit "Sunshine Superman" with a full electric backing band.
Other bands and solo artists who were blurring the boundaries between folk and rock in the early 1960s include Judy Henske, Richard and Mimi Fariña, and the Mugwumps, the latter of which were a New York band featuring future members of the Lovin' Spoonful and the Mamas & the Papas. Also of note are the Australian band the Seekers, who had relocated to England in 1964 and reached number 1 on the UK Singles Chart with "I'll Never Find Another You" in February 1965. Unterberger has noted that, although it was not strictly a folk song, "I'll Never Find Another You" was heavily influenced by Peter, Paul and Mary and featured a cyclical, twelve-string guitar part that sounded similar to the guitar style that Jim McGuinn of the Byrds would popularize later that same year.
There are also a few antecedents to folk rock present in pre-British Invasion American rock 'n' roll, including Elvis Presley's 1954 cover of the Bill Monroe bluegrass standard "Blue Moon of Kentucky"; Buddy Holly's self-penned material, which strongly influenced both Dylan and the Byrds; Ritchie Valens' recording of the Mexican folk song "La Bamba"; Lloyd Price's rock 'n' roll adaptation of the African-American folk song "Stagger Lee" (originally recorded by Mississippi John Hurt in 1928); Jimmie Rodgers' rock 'n' roll flavored renditions of traditional folk songs; and the folk and country-influenced recordings featured on the Everly Brothers' 1959 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. However, this early rock 'n' roll influence on folk rock was not recognized at the time and has only become discernable with the benefit of hindsight.
The moment when all of the separate influences that served to make up folk rock finally coalesced into an identifiable whole was with the release of the Byrds' recording of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man". Written by Dylan in early 1964, the Byrds' recording of the song was issued by Columbia Records on 12 April 1965. Within three months it had become the first folk rock smash hit, reaching number 1 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the UK Singles Chart. The single's success initiated the folk rock boom of 1965 and 1966, during which a profusion of Byrds-influenced acts flooded the American and British charts. The term "folk rock" was itself first coined by the U.S. music press to describe the band's sound in June 1965, at roughly the same time as "Mr. Tambourine Man" peaked at number 1 on the Billboard chart. The song was also included as the title track of the Byrds' debut album, Mr. Tambourine Man, which—along with its follow-up Turn! Turn! Turn!—also became influential in establishing folk rock as a popular musical genre.
It was during the rehearsals at World Pacific that the band began to develop the blend of folk music and Beatles-style pop that would characterize their sound. However, this hybrid was not deliberately created; instead, it evolved organically out of the band's own folk music roots and their desire to emulate the Beatles. The band's folk influences, lack of experience with rock music forms, and Beatleseque instrumentation, all combined to color both their self-penned material and their folk derived repertoire. Soon the band themselves realized that there was something unique about their music and, with Dickson's encouragement, they began to actively attempt to bridge the gap between folk and rock. As rehearsals continued, Dickson managed to acquire an acetate disc of the then-unreleased "Mr. Tambourine Man" from Dylan's music publisher. Although the band were initially unimpressed with the song, they began rehearsing it with a full, electric rock band arrangement, changing the time signature from 2/4 to 4/4 in the process.
The Byrds signed to Columbia Records in November 1964 and on 20 January 1965, they entered Columbia Studios in Hollywood to record "Mr. Tambourine Man". The single's blend of abstract lyrics, folk-influenced melody, complex harmonies, jangly 12-string Rickenbacker guitar playing, and Beatles-influenced beat, resulted in a synthesis that effectively created the subgenre of folk rock. The song's lyrics alone took rock and pop songwriting to new heights; never before had such intellectual and literary lyrics been combined with rock instrumentation by a popular music group.
Dylan's material would provide much of the original grist for the folk rock mill, not only in the U.S. but in the UK as well, with many pop and rock acts covering his material in a style reminiscent of the Byrds. In particular, the Byrds' influence can be discerned in mid-1960s recordings by acts such as the Lovin' Spoonful, Barry McGuire, the Mamas & the Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, the Turtles, We Five, Love, and Sonny & Cher. Their reworking of "Mr. Tambourine Man", along with the Animals' rock interpretation of "The House of the Rising Sun" (itself based on Dylan's earlier cover), helped to give Dylan the impetus to start recording with an electric backing band.
As the 1970s dawned, folk rock evolved away from the jangly template pioneered by the Byrds, but their influence could still be heard in the music of bands like Fairport Convention and Pentangle. The Byrds themselves continued to enjoy commercial success with their brand of folk rock throughout 1965, most notably with their number 1 single "Turn! Turn! Turn!". By the start of 1966, however, the group had begun to move away from folk rock and into the new musical frontier of psychedelic rock. The folk rock sound of the Byrds has continued to influence many bands over the years, including Big Star, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, R.E.M., the Long Ryders, the Smiths, the Bangles, the Stone Roses, and Teenage Fanclub, among others.
Five days before the Byrds entered Columbia Studios in Hollywood to record his song "Mr. Tambourine Man", Bob Dylan completed the recording sessions for his fifth album, Bringing It All Back Home. Of the eleven tracks on the album, seven featured Dylan backed by a full electric rock band, in stark contrast to his earlier acoustic folk albums. As previously mentioned, Dylan's decision to record with an electric backing band had been influenced by a number of factors, including the Beatles' coupling of folk derived chord progressions and beat music, the Byrds' rock adaptation of "Mr. Tambourine Man", and the Animal's hit cover of "The House of the Rising Sun".
In addition, Dylan's producer Tom Wilson, whose own musical leanings were oriented more towards jazz and soul than folk music, had been encouraging Dylan to experiment with an electric band since 1964. In fact, the Bringing It All Back Home sessions did not represent Dylan's first experiments with a backing band; during the sessions for The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan album in October 1962, Dylan had recorded the non-album single "Mixed-Up Confusion" with a skifflesque backing band. However, the single had been a commercial failure and had consequently remained unheard by the public at large.
Bringing It All Back Home was released on 22 March 1965, peaking at number 6 on the Billboard Top LPs chart and #1 on the UK Album Chart. The album's blend of rhythm and blues-derived rock and abstract, poetic lyrics was immediately influential in demonstrating that intelligent lyrical content could be wedded with rock 'n' roll. The songs on the album saw Dylan leaving folk music far behind—and not just on the rock-derived material that made up side 1 of the original LP but also on the acoustic songs on side 2.
Even with this folkier, acoustic material, Dylan's biting, apocalyptical, and often humorous lyrics went far beyond those of contemporary folk music, particularly the folk-protest music with which he had been previously associated. The song "Subterranean Homesick Blues" was taken from the album and issued as a single in April 1965 (the same month as the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man" was released) and it became a sizable hit internationally, reaching number 39 in the U.S. and number 9 in the UK. Performed with a full backing band, the song's musical structure was loosely based on Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business", while the lyrics were a dizzying array of free-association rhymes, hip street-speak, and cautionary advice for the singer's own generation.
On 20 July 1965, Dylan released the groundbreaking "Like a Rolling Stone", a six-minute-long scathing put-down, directed at a down-and-out society girl, which again featured Dylan backed by an electric rock band. Released just as the Byrds' cover of "Mr. Tambourine Man" topped the charts in the United States, the song was instrumental in defining the burgeoning folk rock scene and in establishing Dylan as a bona fide rock star, rather than a folksinger. The song's blend of self-righteous eloquence and guitar and organ-dominated musical backing (which was much heavier sounding than the laid-back, jangly ambiance of The Byrds), was hugely influential on rock music and has remained so up to the present day.
The length of "Like a Rolling Stone" alone was pioneering, although Columbia Records did issue two versions of the single: one featuring the full length version of the song and the other with it chopped in half to facilitate radio play. In spite of its unconventional length, "Like a Rolling Stone" managed to reach the Top 5 on both sides of the Atlantic. Five days after the release of "Like a Rolling Stone", on 25 July 1965, Dylan made a controversial appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, performing three songs with a full band. He was met with derisive booing and jeering from the festival's purist folk music crowd, but in the years since the incident, Dylan's 1965 Newport Folk Festival appearance has become widely regarded as a pivotal moment in the synthesis of folk and rock.
Dylan followed "Like a Rolling Stone" with the wholly electric album Highway 61 Revisited and the non-album single "Positively 4th Street", which itself has been widely interpreted as a rebuke to the folk purists who had rejected his new electric music. Throughout 1965 and 1966, hit singles like "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "Like a Rolling Stone", "Positively 4th Street", and "I Want You" among others, along with the Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde albums, proved to be hugely influential on the development and popularity of folk rock. Although Dylan's move away from acoustic folk music served to outrage and alienate much of his original fanbase, his new folk rock sound gained him legions of new fans during the mid-1960s. The popularity and commercial success of the Byrds and Bob Dylan's blend of folk and rock music influenced a wave of imitators and emulators that retroactively became known as the folk rock boom.
One of the first bands to craft a distinctly American sound in response to the British Invasion was the Beach Boys; while not a folk rock band themselves, they directly influenced the genre, and at the height of the folk rock boom in 1966 had a hit with a cover of the 1920s West Indian folk song "Sloop John B", which they had learned from the Kingston Trio, who in turn had learned it from the Weavers.
The success of Dylan and the Byrds to integrate the sound of electric guitar to their music led record producer Tom Wilson to add electric guitar, bass and drums overdubs to "The Sounds of Silence", a song which had been recorded by the folk duo Simon & Garfunkel in 1964 and first released on their album Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.. The reissued single rose to number 1 on the Billboard pop chart in late 1965, became a hit around the world, and set the duo on one of the most successful careers in pop and rock music. Simon and Garfunkel have been described as "folk-rock's greatest duo, and one whose fame and influence would persist well beyond folk-rock's heyday."
Much of the early folk-rock music emerged during a time of general global upheaval, the Vietnam War, and new concerns for the world by young people. In the United States the heyday of folk rock was arguably between the mid-sixties and the mid-seventies, when it aligned itself with the hippie movement and became an important medium for expressing radical ideas. Cities such as San Francisco, Denver, New York City and Phoenix became centers for the folk rock culture, playing on their central locations among the original folk circuits. The "unplugged" and simplified sound of the music reflected the genre's connection to a critical view of a technological and consumerist society. Unlike pop music's escapist lyrics, arguably a fantasy distraction from the problems in life, folk artists attempted to communicate concerns for peace, global awareness, and other touchstones of the era. Bands whose music was significantly folk rock in sound during the mid-to-late 1960s included Donovan, the Lovin' Spoonful, the Mamas & the Papas, the Youngbloods, Love, and, in their early years, Jefferson Airplane.
In the mid-1960s, singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot began moving his folk songs into a folk-rock direction with recordings such as the percussion-driven "Black Day In July", about the 1967 Detroit riot. He would go on to top the charts in the 1970s with a number of his folk-rock recordings, such as "Sundown" and "Carefree Highway", and would come to be known as a folk-rock legend. Some artists, originally produced with a harder edged rock sound, found the ability to communicate more easily and felt more genuine in this method of delivery. In this category was Cat Stevens, in London, who began, much like the Byrds in the United States, but toned down the sound more frequently, with acoustic instruments, performing songs that contained concern for the environment, war, and the future of the world in general. The Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell won many Grammy Awards with her folk rock/pop songs.
A subgenre originally arising from the early 1960s folk and country-influenced music of singer-songwriter artists such as Bob Dylan and Bobby Bare, as well as from folk revivalist vocal groups like the Kingston Trio. During the late 1960s, many folk rock artists including Dylan, Ian and Sylvia, and the Byrds began to incorporate a strong country influence into their music, drawing heavily on Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and Buck Owens amongst others, resulting in the concurrent offshoot of country rock. This successful blending of country, folk and rock styles led to pioneering country folk records by folk-influenced singer-songwriters such as John Denver and Neil Young during the 1970s. Country folk music usually displays a softer, more laid-back feel than the majority of country music and is often complemented by introspective lyrics, thus preserving its folk singer-songwriter roots. Since the 1970s, the country folk subgenre has been perpetuated by artists including John Prine, Nanci Griffith, Kathy Mattea, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Iris DeMent.
Electric folk (aka British folk rock) is the name given to the form of folk rock pioneered in Britain during the late 1960s by the bands Sweeney's Men, Fairport Convention, and Pentangle. It uses traditional British music and self-penned compositions in a traditional style, and is played on a combination of traditional and rock instruments. This incorporation of traditional British folk music influences gives electric folk its distinctly British character and flavour. It evolved out of the psychedelia-influenced folk rock of British acts such as Donovan, the Incredible String Band, and Tyrannosaurus Rex, but was also heavily influenced by such American folk rock bands as the Byrds, Love, and Buffalo Springfield. Electric folk was at its most significant and popular during the late 1960s and 1970s, when, in addition to Fairport and Pentangle, it was also taken up by groups such as Steeleye Span and the Albion Band.
Steeleye Span, founded by Fairport Convention bass player Ashley Hutchings, was made up of traditionalist folk musicians who wished to incorporate electrical amplification, and later overt rock elements, into their music. This, in turn, spawned the conspicuously English folk rock music of the Albion Band, a group that also included Hutchings. In Brittany electric folk was pioneered by Alan Stivell (who began to mix his Breton, Irish, and Scottish roots with rock music) and later by French bands like Malicorne. During this same period, electric folk was adopted and developed in the surrounding Celtic cultures of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, and Cornwall, to produce Celtic rock and its derivates. Electric folk also gave rise to the subgenre of Medieval folk rock and the fusion genres of folk punk and folk metal. By the 1980s the popularity of the electric folk was in steep decline but it has survived into the 21st century and has been revived as part of a more general folk resurgence since the 1990s. Electric folk has also been influential in those parts of the world with close cultural connections to Britain, such as the U.S. and Canada.
A subgenre of folk rock that combines traditional Celtic instrumentation with rock rhythms, often influenced by a wide varitety of pop and rock music styles. It emerged from the electric folk music of the late 1960s and was pioneered by bands such as Horslips, who blended Gaelic mythology, traditional Irish music and rock. The British singer-songwriter Donovan was also influential in developing Celtic rock during the late 1960s, with his albums The Hurdy Gurdy Man, Barabajagal, and Open Road, the latter of which actually featured a song entitled "Celtic Rock". The subgenre was further popularised in 1973 by Thin Lizzy, who had a hit with "Whiskey in the Jar", a traditional Irish song performed entirely in the rock idiom. Throughout the 1970s, Celtic rock held close to its folk roots, drawing heavily on traditional Celtic fiddle, pipe, and harp tunes, as well as traditional vocal styles, but making use of rock band levels of amplification and percussion. In the 1980s and beyond, Celtic rock was perpetuated by bands such as the Pogues, the Waterboys, Runrig, Black 47, and the Prodigals. A more recent folk rock band based in England is the BibleCode Sundays. Celtic rock is also popular in Spain where bands such as Celtas Cortos have had a large following since the early 1990s.
Medieval folk rock
Medieval folk rock developed as a subgenre of electric folk from about 1970 as performers, particularly in England, Germany and Brittany, adopted medieval and renaissance music as a basis for their music, in contrast to the early modern and nineteenth century ballads that dominated the output of Fairport Convention. This followed the trend explored by Steeleye Span, and exemplified by their 1972 album Below the Salt. Acts in this area included Gryphon, Gentle Giant and Third Ear Band. In Germany Ougenweide, originally formed in 1970 as an acoustic folk group, opted to draw exclusively on High German medieval music when they electrified, setting the agenda for future German electric folk. In Brittany, as part of the Celtic rock movement, medieval music was focused on by bands like Ripaille from 1977 and Saga de Ragnar Lodbrock from 1979. However, by the end of the 1970s almost all of these performers had either disbanded or moved, like Gentle Giant and Gryphon, into the developing area of progressive rock. In the 1990s, as part of the wider resurgence of folk music in general, new medieval folk rock acts began to appear, including the Ritchie Blackmore project Blackmore's Night, German bands such as In Extremo, Subway to Sally or Schandmaul and English bands like Circulus.
British progressive folk rock
In Britain the tendency to electrify brought several progressive folk acts into rock. This includes the acoustic duo Tyrannosaurus Rex, who became the electric combo T. Rex. Others, probably influenced by the electric folk pioneered by Fairport Convention from 1969, moved towards more traditional material, a category including Dando Shaft, Amazing Blondel, and Jack the Lad, an offshoot of northern progressive folk group Lindisfarne, who were one of the most successful UK bands of the early 1970s. Examples of bands that remained firmly on the border between progressive folk and progressive rock were the short lived (but later reunited) Comus and, more successfully, Renaissance, who combined folk and rock with elements of classical music.
Folk metal is a fusion genre of heavy metal music and traditional folk music that developed in Europe during the 1990s. It is characterised by the widespread use of folk instruments and, to a lesser extent, traditional singing styles (for example, Dutch Heidevolk, Danish Sylvatica and Spanish Stone of Erech). It also sometimes features soft instrumentation influenced by folk rock.
The earliest folk metal bands were Skyclad from England and Cruachan from Ireland. Skyclad's debut album The Wayward Sons of Mother Earth was released in 1991 and would be considered a thrash metal album with some folk influences, unlike Cruachan’s early work which embraced the folk element as a defining part of their sound. It was not until 1994 and 1995 that other early contributors in the genre began to emerge from different regions of Europe and beyond. Among these early groups, the German band Subway to Sally spearheaded a different regional variation that over time became known as medieval metal. Despite their contributions, folk metal remained little known with few representatives during the 1990s. It was not until the early 2000s when the genre exploded into prominence, particularly in Finland with the efforts of such groups as Finntroll, Ensiferum, Korpiklaani, Turisas, and Moonsorrow.
The music of folk metal is characterised by its diversity with bands known to perform different styles of both heavy metal music and folk music. A large variety of folk instruments are used in the genre with many bands consequently featuring six or more members in their regular line-ups. A few bands are also known to rely on keyboards to simulate the sound of folk instruments. Lyrics in the genre commonly deal with fantasy, mythology, paganism, history and nature.
In Hungary the fusion of rock and folk music began in 1965, when the band Illés introduced Hungarian folk music elements into their beat-influenced music, winning everything which could be won in that time at festivals, TV contests, etc. Their rock-musical István, a király (Stephen I of Hungary), released in 1980 contains strong folk-influences and traditional folk songs as well. The film made based on the rock-opera was one of the biggest box-office hits in 1980. Later on bands like Barbaro, Gépfolklór, Kormorán and Drums have developed a distinctive sound using odd rhythms, progressive rock, Hungarian and Greek/Bulgarian/etc. folk traditions.
In Romania Transsylvania Phoenix (known in Romania simply as Phoenix), founded in 1962, introduced significant folk elements into their rock music around 1972 in an unsuccessful attempt to compromise with government repression of rock music. The attempt failed, and they ended up in exile during much of the Ceauşescu era, but much of their music still retains a folk rock sound. The present-day bands Spitalul de Urgenţă (Romanian) and Zdob şi Zdub (Moldova) also both merge folk and rock.
Yugoslavia and its successor states
Although large number of Yugoslav 1960s beat bands performed and recorded covers of Balkan traditional songs, it was the late 1960s and early 1970s when the Yugoslav rock bands started incorporating folk elements into their own compositions. Progressive rock bands Korni Grupa and YU Grupa and acoustic rock band S Vremena Na Vreme were pioneers in incorporating folk music elements into their sound, and were followed by progressive rock bands Smak and Dah, acoustic rock bands DAG, Suncokret and Rezonansa, and jazz fusion bands Leb i Sol and Den Za Den.
Bijelo Dugme, which emerged in the mid-1970s, had huge success with their folk-influenced hard rock sound, becoming the most popular Yugoslav band, managing to sustain this status during the 1980s. However, at the beginning of the 1980s, Bijelo Dugme switched to new wave, and in the late 1980s to pop rock, but their last few releases also featured folk music elements. Late Bijelo Dugme albums influenced a number of pop rock/folk rock bands, mostly from Sarajevo: Crvena Jabuka, Plavi Orkestar, Merlin, Valentino, Hari Mata Hari, Jugosloveni.
Several hard rock and heavy metal bands, like Vatreni Poljubac and Griva, incorporated folk music elements into their songs. The singer-songwriter Đorđe Balašević incorporated elements of folk music of Vojvodina into a number of his songs, while some of his albums, like Na posletku... and Rani mraz, were completely folk rock-oriented. Another notable act whose music featured a combination of rock and Vojvodina folk music were the band Garavi Sokak. The band Galija incorporated some folk music elements into their music during the late 1980s and early 1990s, and in 1999 released the album Južnjačka uteha with covers of Serbian traditional songs. The band Azra started their career as a new wave band, but in their late period started to incorporate folk music elements into their music. After the band disbanded, the band's former leader, Branimir Štulić continued to use folk music elements on his solo albums, often recording covers of traditional songs.
In the early 1990s, Serbian band Orthodox Celts emerged. They saw major success with their Irish folk/Celtic rock sound, influencing a number of younger bands, most notably Tir na n'Og and Irish Stew of Sindidun.
The Soviet Union and its successor states
Russian folk rock artists combine elements of Russian rock with celtic music, folk music of Northern countries as well as Russian folk music. Examples are the band Yat-Kha and Sak-Sok, who perform Tuvan and Tatar traditional music based on rock music. The first known fusions between rock music and folklore in Russia began with bands of the VIA generation till the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s, such as Pesniary and Ariel.
The songs by the 1975 student ensemble "Ornament" are based on Anglo-American folk music. The group later renamed to "Kukurusa" and performed from 1986 on as a professional band. The band Kalinov Most was formed that year, releasing their debut album, Vyvoroten, in 1990, which contained "ethnical motiefs and shamanic motets". Numerous bands and musicians have cited this band as an influence, most notably Inna Zhelannaya and the band "Dvurechye". Less-known bands, such as "Ado", performed in the style of folk and country rock.
The first half of the 1990s saw diverse groups such as "Sektor Gaza", "Ckazy Lesa" (formerly known as "Huligany"), "Rada i Ternovnik", "Ad Libitum" and "Bashnaya Rowan". Musicians of these groups incorporate, beside folk rock, several different genres, ranging from psychedelic music to Jazz and neo-folk. Sergey Kalugin's 1994 EP Nigredo became Russia's first dark folk album.
Members of the folk rock band "Til Ulenshpigel", formed in 1996, later invited the singer Hellawes to join the band. After the break-up of "Til Ulenshpigel" in 1999, Hellawes joined the band Melnitsa, replacing founding member Ruslana Komlyakova. Around the time, in 1999, the band "Veter Vody" was formed, including Den Skurida and Maria Larina from Til Ulenshpigel. Despite their separation from Melnitsa in 2002, the latter band is still one of the most famous folk rock bands in Russia.
One of the most popular and successful folk rock bands in Ukraine are "Dorogi Menyayut Tsvet", which received a Ukrainian Rock Award for the "Best Folk-Rock Group in Ukraine" in 2006.
Turkey, during the 1970s and 1980s, also sustained a vibrant folk rock scene, drawing inspirations from diverse ethnic elements of Anatolia, the Balkans, Eurasia and the Black Sea region and thriving in a culture of intense political strife, with musicians in nationalist and Marxist camps. Leading examples are Cem Karaca, Kazım Koyuncu, Barış Manço, Erkin Koray, Fikret Kızılok, Silüetler, Moğollar and left-wing Grup Yorum.
There is a large and diversified folk-rock scene in Germany. The scene is closely, but not solely, connected with the medieval festivals, which for more than 20 years has been kept all over Germany often in old castles (e.g. Veldenburger Festival). The largest of these is spectaculum.
The music realizes all kinds of mixtures between folk and rock. There are bands such as Die Streuner whose music is close to medieval music, but there are more bands whose music, though it is close to medieval music, use rock drums and rock-like rhythms and are more or less electrified (Vermaledyit, Feuerschwanz, Saltatio Mortis, Corvus Corax). Many bands plays even more rock-like folk-rock (Schandmaul, Faun, Ignis Fatuu) although Faun is hard to classify due to musice variation. Some bands play medieval metal (Tanzwut, In Extremo, Subway to Sally, Rabenschrei).
Use of older instruments is common in German folk-rock. The most widely used old instruments in the German folk-rock are perhaps bagpipes, pipes, hurdy-gurdy, nyckelharp, and lute, which often are played together with rock guitar, bass and drums. Tanzwut and In Extremo have for instance two bagpipes players in their heavyband. The German folk-rock scene is largely based on professional musicians, including a number of female multi-instrumental musicians such as Anna Kränzlein (Schandmaul) and Fiona Rüggeberg (Faun).
The inspiration of the German folk-rock does not stem from old German music only, but from a variety of other sources such as France, Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland and Sweden. Faun has introduced music from even a wider range of countries. Some German folk-rock bands play Scotch and Irish folk-rock, like The Dolmen and Fiddlers Green (folk-punk). German folk-rock has nothing to do with Schlagers music or traditional brass band music.
It is difficult to define the boundaries between folk and ethnic music in Italy, because of its geographic position and its history. The folk side was founded by the Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare at the end of the 1960s. The Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano was characterized by musical search and a strong political commitment. In Italy many songwriters imported American models, such as Folk beat n. 1 by Francesco Guccini or to Edoardo Bennato, who mixes country, rock and tarantella.
Folk rock roots can be found in two Italian songwriters: Fabrizio De André and Angelo Branduardi. In 1984, Fabrizio De André published the LP Creuza de ma, in Genoese dialect (an ancient dialect, with ancient and obsolete words, imported from Arabian, with linguistic difficulties among the same Genoese). De André used musical instruments from Bosporus to Gibraltar: oud, andalusian guitar, Macedonian bag pipe, flute, Turkish shannaj, lute, Greek bouzuki and neapolitan mandolin. Branduardi is a classical musician whose first LP Branduardi '74 is near to progressive sound, later he approaches to medieval and rinascimental and Celtic music. In 1985 he sang William Butler Yeats poetry. The violin, the harp, the sitar, the banjo and the lute are accompanied by electric bass and drums. Later he substituted violin with electric violin.
In 1982 Lou Dalfin formed an occitanian group which performed traditional music with traditional instruments: ghironda, accordion and organetto, violin, flute, boha and bag pipe and singing in occitanian language. A new line-up of the band in 1990 played folk, jazz and rock using electric bass, drums, electric guitar, keyboard and saxophone. In 1988 Gigi Camedda, Gino Marielli and Andrea Parodi founded Tazenda, an Italian ethno-folk-rock group which uses a launeddas (the oldest reed instruments of the Mediterranean), the sampled "canti a tenore", the diatonic accordions are mixed with electric guitars and drums and harmonicas.
The Gang were formed in 1984 as a punk group, inspired by The Clash, but in 1990 they began to sing about Italian political and social situation and they moved away from punk-style electric guitar and used acoustic twelve string guitar, violin, accordion, harmonica, and flutes. In 2004, after two rock discs, Gang recorded Nel tempo e oltre cantando insieme with La Macina, band of musical search from Marche led by Gastone Pietrucci. Traditional songs and Gang's songs were revised rearranged: an example of fusion between rock and popular tradition.
In 1991 some performers from Emilia-Romagna founded Modena City Ramblers, which blends the Combat Rock musical style (The Clash) with folk, traditional Irish music, political songs (Contessa) and partisans' songs (Fischia il vento and Bella Ciao). Later M.C.R. used a world music sound, and blended in rock, punk, tape loops and samples, creating a new genre called Celtic patchanka. Many groups were influenced by M.C.R.: Casa del Vento, Fiamma Fumana led by Alberto Cottica (electronic folk); Caravane de Ville of Giovanni Rubbiani; Ductia of Massimo Giuntini; Paulem and La strana famiglia led by Luciano Gaetani; and Cisco (former singer of M.C.R.) now a guitarist and drummer.
Other fusions of folk and rock include New Flamenco (Spain), the pop-oriented forms of North African raï music. Spain has produced two folk-rock-bagpipers, Susana Seivane from Galicia and Hevia, who mix traditional with modern dance tunes. Triquel is another Spanish Celtic rock band that combines rock music with Celtic folk roots whereas Mago de Oz is a well known Spanish band which combines celtic folk rock with hard rock. Besides, experimental rock musician Lynda Thomas gained notoriety for fusioning traditional music with rock or eurodance music.
Canadian folk rock is particularly, although not exclusively, associated with Celtic folk traditions. Bands such as Figgy Duff, Wonderful Grand Band and Spirit of the West were early pioneers in the Canadian tradition of Celtic-influenced rock, and were later followed by acts such as Crash Test Dummies, Great Big Sea, the Mahones, the Dukhs, Jimmy George, Rawlins Cross, Captain Tractor, Mudmen, and Michou. In recent years, a variety of Canadian indie music has reached the scene with varying styles of folk rock such as Attack in Black, Great Lake Swimmers, City and Colour, The Wooden Sky, Joel Plaskett and Two Hours Traffic.
Australia has a unique tradition of folk music, with origins in both the indigenous music traditions of the original Australian inhabitants, as well as the introduced folk music (including sea shanties) of 18th and 19th century Europe. Celtic, English, German and Scandinavian folk traditions predominated in this first wave of European immigrant music. The Australian tradition is, in this sense, related to the traditions of other countries with similar ethnic, historical and political origins, such as New Zealand, Canada, and the USA. The Australian indigenous tradition brought to this mix novel elements, including new instruments, some of which are now internationally familiar, such as the digeridoo of Northern Australia.
Notable Australian exponents of the folk revival movement included both European immigrants such as Eric Bogle, and indigenous Australians like Archie Roach, and many others. In the 1970s, Australian folk rock brought both familiar and less familiar traditional songs, as well as new compositions, to live venues and the airwaves. Notable artists include The Bushwacker Band and Redgum. The 1990s brought Australian Indigenous Folk Rock to the world, led by bands including Yothu Yindi. Australia's long and continuous folk tradition continues strongly to this day, with elements of folk music still present in many contemporary artists including those generally thought of as rock, heavy metal and alternative rock.
In Japan in the 1960s with the Eleki Boom brought about by The Ventures and The Astronauts touring in the country, bands such as Takeshi Terauchi & Blue Jeans, The Spacemen, and Munetaka Inoue & Sharp Five combined Japanese folk music with surf rock and instrumental rock, often doing instrumental rock renditions of Japanese folk songs.
Manila Sound is a subgenre popular in the Philippines (notably in Manila during the 1970s which combined elements of Filipino folk music, rock and roll, jazz and disco. Notable musicians in this genre include Freddie Aguilar, Florante, Heber Bartolome and Banyuhay, Asin, Sampaguita, Rey Valera, Sharon Cuneta, Hotdog, the APO Hiking Society, VST & Co., Rico J. Puno, and Ryan Cayabyab, although only Aguilar's, Florante's, Bartolome's, Asin's and Sampaguita's music can be considered folk rock, with the others' more aptly under the folk pop or simply pop rubric.
Belgian-born South African Rock-singer Karen Zoid made headlines when her debut single ''Afrikaners is Plesierig'' (Afrikaans people are Fun) became a hit in 2001. The song is a slightly altered bilingual rock-version of the Afrikaans folk-song of the same name. It also inadvertently kick-started the Afrikaans Rock movement.